Advancing Children's Health

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Sun safety tips to protect your family

Published by , on Jun 22, 2017

Now that the school year has wrapped up, parents and children are likely to spend more time outdoors enjoying the summer sun. Whether you’re headed to the pool, beach or just the back yard, don’t forget to protect your family’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Dr. Laurie Shinn, pediatric dermatologist at CHoR, answers some common and important questions about sunscreen to help you prepare for a fun summer ahead.

Q: What precautions should parents take to protect children’s skin when outside?

A: Use a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 30. It should be applied generously and reapplied every 1.5-2 hours. Though sunscreen is always recommended, the rate of malignant melanoma continues to rise despite sunscreen use. It may be that sunscreen has provided a sense of security, so people are comfortable in the sun for longer periods of time, leading to more UV exposure. For this reason, the American Academy of Dermatology also stresses the importance of physical blockers, such as hats, sunglasses, clothing and shade, along with avoiding prolonged exposure to midday sun (10am – 3pm). Be sun smart and take breaks inside throughout the day, reapply sunscreen and use physical barriers as much as possible.

Q: Are there any tips for applying sunscreen?

A: An adult-sized body needs one ounce of sunscreen applied every 1.5-2 hours. A smaller body requires a smaller amount, but it should adequately cover the body’s entire surface area. It is important to wait 20 minutes after application before getting wet, so the sunscreen has ample time to soak into the skin and form a protective layer.

Q: What type of sunscreen should I buy?

A: One of the most important qualifications to look for when purchasing sunscreen is broad spectrum, which protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Traditional sunscreen only protects the skin from UVB rays which are more likely to cause a burn, but if a sunscreen is not broad spectrum it does not protect the skin from UVA rays which cause wrinkles.

Q: What about spray sunscreen?

A: There are some reports that spray sunscreens can be harmful if inhaled and it’s difficult not to have them inhaled by children when applying. At this time clinical evidence is still being evaluated.

Q: What if my child’s skin has a reaction to sunscreen? Are there certain kinds to look for or avoid?

A: Try to use sunscreens labeled sensitive and chemical free. The active ingredients should be zinc oxide or titanium dioxide only.

Q: At what age can babies begin using sunscreen?

A: Babies can begin using sunscreen when they are six months old. The primary reason we recommend to wait is because infants have thin skin and immature melanocytes (sun protective cells) so sunscreen is not as effective on them. We don’t want parents to have a false sense of security.

Q: What if my children’s skin tans rather than burns? Do they still need sunscreen?

A: Tanning is a sign of sun damage, just as a sunburn is. Although it’s true that darker skin types have more protective cells from the harmful UV rays, it is not true that lighter skin types that tan are likewise protected from UV damage. Again, this false sense of security is dangerous and can lead to skin cancers. The best rule of thumb is to use sunscreen no matter what.

Q: What should I do if my child does get a sunburn?

A: There is no reversing the sun damage, but comfort care can include acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and aloe vera for cooling relief. Avoid sun exposure until the sunburn resolves. Topical steroids may be prescribed for more serious burns. If the child is feeling really bad with shaking chills, severe blistering and large areas of the body involved, seek medical attention to determine if further care is needed.

Though we tend to think about sunscreen during the summer months, it should really be used all year long. This is true even on overcast days, because UV rays can still pass through clouds. Children learn by example, so make sure you’re applying your sunscreen too!

Learn additional sun safety tips from Dr. Shinn.

For more summer safety tips, join us for our 18th Annual Summer Safety Fair.

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